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NewsProposed law against the public burning of holy scriptures in Denmark

Proposed law against the public burning of holy scriptures in Denmark

Proposed law against the public burning of holy scriptures in Denmark

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Proposed law against the public burning of holy scriptures in Denmark

Last summer, a Quran was burnt in Sweden. This unspeakable act aroused strong emotions in the international community. Following this criminal act, Denmark is now proposing legislation to criminalise such acts and protect the holy scriptures.

Article written by Bashy Quraishy* and Thierry Valle* (see short bios at the bottom)

Mr Bashy Quraishy brings his expertise to bear on the discussions that this legislation is stirring up in Danish society. He is assisted in his analysis by the President of CAP Liberté de conscience.

Background of the proposed law

Denmark is a peaceful country where laws are respected, and the society practices an age-old proverb; One can always agree to disagree. This mindset has helped Danes to avoid big differences, minimise societal conflicts and live a rather peaceful life. The cornerstone of accepting differing opinions is the notion of unlimited freedom of expression. It means that people can say anything, they please. It has worked because Denmark has been a mono-cultural, mono-ethnic, and Christian nation for nearly one thousand years. That attitude, however, has also created an underlying intolerance and hostility towards other cultures, faiths and living styles, especially towards Muslim communities and Islam.

Since the early seventies when immigrants from developing countries were allowed to come and work, ill will has slowly but surely increased towards those groups that are officially described as; foreigners with non-European cultural backgrounds.

Various political parties were established on an agenda of negativity that a large part of the mainstream media helped to spread.

It was in this background, that Danish politician – Rasmus Paludan –started burning the Quran in public in 2017 – first in minority-populated areas, then in public places and in front of the Danish parliament. Despite protests from minorities and progressive Danes, the government did not do anything to stop it. Instead, the police kept on providing protection during his provocative actions. According to media reports, from 2017 up until 2020, the Danish state used 127 million Kr. to protect Mr. Paludan and his Quran-burning events.

He later moved to Sweden and started doing the same. Some Iranian and Iraqi refugees have started copying him by burning the Quran in public and in front of various embassies. It must be mentioned that this happened with the authorities’ permission and resulted in local and diplomatic protests. It is said that there have been over 100 Quran burnings over the past few months in 2023.

The international condemnations of Quran desecration in Denmark and Sweden

Unfortunately, the inaction of the Danish and Swedish states, not only helped to escalate the deteriorating situation, it created anger among Muslims in Scandinavia and internationally. OIC and individual countries reacted strongly. They believed that such actions were planned and implemented without authorities taking any action to stop them. Many non-Muslim lands also strongly condemned the desecration of religious books like the Quran.

First Denmark refused to act and kept on talking about freedom of Expression but when the warnings of trade sanctions started coming from OIC, and powerful Muslim countries as well as warning statements from the UK, USA and China, Denmark thought about its economic and foreign interests and the government decided to propose the bill to outlaw the burning of all the religious books.

Facts about the bill against the burning of holy scriptures

The government on 25th August 2023, presented its proposal for a legislative intervention to prevent the burning of holy books such as the Quran and the Bible in public places in Denmark.

The government’s proposed bill, reads, “Anyone who, publicly or with the intention of spreading it in a wider circle, is guilty of improper treatment of an object with significant religious significance for a religious community or an object that appears as such, is punished with a fine or imprisonment for up to two years”. The proposal does not include satirical drawings or religious clothing. The law, if passed, would be attached as “subsection 2” to the existing section 110 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits desecration of other nations’ flags.

It seems that the proposal is aimed at actions that take place in a public place or on the Internet, and it does not just apply to burning. one must also not throw on the ground, trample on, cut or tear such a religiously significant object. In the end, the courts will have to deal with the gravity of the crime.

The reactions

After the proposal was made public in a hastily arranged Pres briefing in the parliament, Jørn Vestergaard, professor emeritus found the word, Inappropriate or Improper treatment as too vague a term. He suggested using the term ‘degrading’ instead. Lasse Ellegaard, a famous intellectual said that burning the Quran (or other holy books) is an assault on the believer who has based his existence on its content. And a reminder to all Muslims that the arrogant Christian West still celebrates the mentality of the Crusades.

Historian and former editor-in-chief at Politiken Newspaper, Bo Lidegaard, who had worked in the Prime Minister’s Office during the Mohammed crisis said that banning Quran burnings is about protecting minorities and it is a misunderstanding that the Quran burnings had anything to do with freedom of expression.

In my own opinion, the proposal is very vague and rather confusing. The law would cover all religions and it is the court that would decide after the police complaints. The most important issue is the attitude of the police authorities who must take the cases to the courts and the judges who would act. Here, I am a bit sceptical. But all in all, I welcome the initiative.

The reaction of the Muslim communities and the Danish public

Muslim communities, religious reps and NGOs in Denmark have welcomed this initiative. They expressed their support both in press releases, letters to editors and articles in the media. In the survey, conducted by institute Voxmeter on behalf of news wire Ritzau, 1,000 people were asked whether they want the proposed law change to be adopted.

Some 50.2 per cent answered “yes”, 35 per cent said “no” and 14.8 per cent did not know. The survey was among the first to assess public opinion on the pertinent issue since the government announced that it would ban Quran burnings in public.

Most of the Danish media, political parties and a part of the elite are opposing this bill and use the usual excuse of freedom of expression. These fundamentalist forces are those people who have no regard for other people’s opinions, and ideas and only want to push their own version of the reality on others and the society. They even do not care that the Danish Constitution clearly points out that freedom of expression is always under responsibility and Danish Panel Code 266b states that freedom should not be misused to harass minorities or demonise people of other faiths or cultures.

Muslim countries welcome Danish “Quran law”.

The Danish government’s bill is appreciated and a step in the right direction, according to Muslim countries. Iraq’s foreign minister Fouad Hussein was among the first to respond to the Danish government’s desire to criminalize Quran burnings while Muqtada al-Sadr, leader of the Sadr militia declared on Twitter, that he is now prepared to enter into a meaningful and constructive dialogue with Denmark and Sweden.

Kuwait’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Salem al-Abdullah al-Sabah and the chairman of the Arab League parliament, Adel bin Abdul Rahman Al-Asoumi, called Denmark’s bill “a step in the right direction”. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Pakistan has always maintained that the desecration and burning of holy scriptures constitutes a serious act of religious hatred, which must not be allowed under the guise of freedom of expression, opinion and protest.

According to Hürriyet, Turkey had a great influence on the Danish government’s decision, and therefore the bill is considered by the Turkish leadership as a step in the right direction.

Heinrich Heine predicted the Quran burnings 200 years ago

Quran burning in Europe is not a new phenomenon. On August 20, it was exactly 200 years ago that Heinrich Heine’s drama Almansor was performed at the National Theater in Braunschweig. In Heinrich Heine’s drama from 1823, the main character’s servant, Hassan, says almost prophetically: ‘This is just the beginning, but where you burn books, you also burn people in the end’. He was referring to 1499, when the Archbishop of Toledo, the confessor of the Spanish royal couple and the Grand Inquisitor Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros ordered the burning of five thousand books containing ‘Muslim’ theology, philosophy, and natural science. Quran burnings have thus also been carried out in the name of Christianity. It is worth remembering in these Quran-burning times.

What is the latest development regarding the proposed law?

On 25 August 2023, the bill was sent for public consultation for four weeks with a deadline of 22 September 2023, so that the bill can be expected to be tabled in the opening week of the coming parliamentary year. On September 1, 2023, the Minister of Justice Peter Hummelgaard presented a written submission before the Folketing, where he proposed an act to amend the Penal Code (Prohibition against inappropriate treatment of objects with significant religious significance for a religious community.

In his letter to the parliament, the justice minister argued that the recent Quran burnings have meant that Denmark is increasingly seen in large parts of the world as a country that facilitates mockery and denigration of other countries and religions. The actions must be assumed to have had as their primary purpose to mock and provoke reactions. Let us hope that Danish bill would soon become a law and would inspire Sweden to do the same.

Bashy Quraishy is a member of a number of Commissions, Committees and Boards involved with Human Rights, Ethnic/Religious Equality Issues, anti-racism, anti-discrimination, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, both in Denmark and internationally.  He is the Coordinator-ENAR Platform – in Denmark and a Council Member – of the Institute for Human Rights – Denmark. he also animates “Bashy’s Corner” TV Copenhagen- Denmark.

* Thierry Valle is president of the Coordination of the Associations and the People for Freedom of Conscience, a European NGO with United Nations Consultative Status, created two decades ago and dedicated to protecting the Right of Freedom of Religion and Belief.

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